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An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited

11–15 Argyle Place South, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia



First published 2015

Text © Chris Bowen, 2015

Design and typography © Melbourne University Publishing Limited, 2015

This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publishers.

Every attempt has been made to locate the copyright holders for material quoted in this book. Any person or organisation that may have been overlooked or misattributed may contact the publisher.

Typeset in 12/16pt Dante by Cannon Typesetting

Cover design by Design by Committee

Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Bowen, Chris, author.

The money men: Australia’s twelve most notable Treasurers/Chris Bowen.

9780522866605 (paperback)

9780522866612 (ebook)

Includes index.

Australia. Department of Finance (2013–)—Officials and employees.

Finance ministers—Australia.


Finance, Public—Australia—History.


Finance is government and government is finance.

William Pitt

To be the economic manager of the nation was an overwhelming privilege. It was in many ways a more significant role than that of prime minister, although some former treasurers who have moved on would clearly not agree with that assessment.

Bill Hayden

The way of the world is that prime ministers will always leave their dirty work to treasurers.

John Howard

I always had the belief that as Treasurer, I was working in a tradition and it was important, if not paramount, to preserve the legacies of those who preceded me.

Wayne Swan

To Rebecca, for everything.

And for Australia’s future treasurers,

in the hope that history helps.



1   Sir George Turner

2   William Alexander Watt

3   Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page

4   Edward Granville (Ted) Theodore

5   Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley

6   Sir Arthur William (Artie) Fadden

7   Dr James Ford (Jim) Cairns

8   William George (Bill) Hayden

9   John Winston Howard

10   Paul John Keating

11   Peter Howard Costello

12   Wayne Maxwell Swan





Australia is the only nation to have a treasurer running the economy.

In 1819, John Thomas Bigge travelled to Australia to conduct an inquiry into how the colony of New South Wales (NSW) was being governed. His report, published three years later, was highly critical of governor Macquarie’s administration. In it, he stated: ‘With respect to the collection of the internal revenue of the colony … I should recommend that the duty of collection, receipt and account, should be entrusted to an officer, to be named the Colonial Treasurer.’ NSW and the other colonies duly appointed treasurers, and on Federation the title was adopted for the national economic manager. Hence, a uniquely Australian office was created.

Every national government, of course, has a Cabinet-level office holder who is responsible for the economy. Most are called ‘minister for finance’. The British economic manager revels in the title of the chancellor of the exchequer, the United States has a secretary of the treasury, and some countries like Argentina have a minister for the economy. But while almost every soccer club, chamber of commerce and stamp collecting society in the world has a treasurer, Australia is unique in having one in charge of the country’s finances.1

When the Australian treasurer meets with their international counterparts, they undoubtedly contemplate the similarities and differences between the offices they hold. The Australian treasurer will always be one of the most senior members of the Cabinet.2 They will sometimes combine the post with being deputy prime minister but regardless will almost always be within the top three most senior ministers. Since 1977, an Australian treasurer has shared responsibility for government spending with the minister for finance but in many ways has much more responsibility than their international counterparts. An Australian treasurer has responsibility for foreign investment (through the Foreign Investment Review Board), the Reserve Bank of Australia (although the central bank is independent, the treasurer is responsible for the key appointment of its governor), competition (through a competition commission), prudential regulation (through a prudential regulation authority), the production of currency (through the mint) and financial regulation (through the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, or ASIC). Few ministers around the world have this much responsibility for the management of various parts of the economy.

So who are these money men? (All treasurers to this point have been men.)

While there have been bookshelves of volumes written about Australian prime ministers, no book has ever been written about Australian treasurers, an office widely seen as the second most-important post in the country. This is a gap that this book has been written to fill.3 It seeks neither to provide hagiographies of previous treasurers nor to condemn them. I started each chapter from a perspective of sympathy for the men who worked hard to create a better economy for their country, and the varying success they had.

I was the treasurer briefly and aspire to be again, which has allowed me to write about the office with an insider’s perspective. In fact, I’ve learnt things writing this book that will make me a better treasurer should I receive the honour of serving in the post again. As the British prime minister and writer Benjamin Disraeli said: ‘The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.’

The twelve treasurers written about in this book were chosen as the most notable of Australia’s thirty-eight treasurers4—not necessarily the best, not the worst, but twelve of the most interesting. This is not intended as a slight to those treasurers who do not appear here. Several others (Richard Casey, Harold Holt and John Dawkins, for example) could have been included. But a line had to be drawn somewhere. Each of the treasurers in these pages was chosen because his tenure had something unique to commend it—for example, being treasurer at a particularly challenging time for the economy, or at a time of great turmoil, or great reform as a parable of success or an example of failure.

I chose to write about George Turner because he was our first treasurer and we need to better understand the pioneer to understand the office. William Watt is a spectacular example of

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